APOC fines Senate president

Critic calls action against Sen. Ben Stevens 'too late,' recommends change

Posted: Friday, January 12, 2007

The Alaska Public Offices Commission on Thursday found state Senate President Ben Stevens in violation of financial reporting requirements but cut his recommended fine in half to $5,000.

Ray Metcalfe, the former Republican legislator who brought the complaint, denounced the commission for what he called lax enforcement of ethics rules.

The commission unanimously found that Stevens had failed to report to APOC what clients paid money to Advance North, a consulting company he co-owned.

Stevens, a Republican, said in a letter to the commission that he was not required to report the information about Advance North because he believed he did not have a controlling interest in it. He owned 50 percent interest in the firm with lobbyist Trevor McCabe.

Metcalfe challenged Stevens' defense.

"Ben Stevens was president of this company. To assert that he does not have effective control is an absurdity," he said.

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Stevens' delay in reporting allowed him to keep the firm's client list secret during the last legislative session.

The commission agreed that Stevens should have reported the income, but it reduced the staff-recommended penalty of more than $10,000 to $5,000, with some members saying the regulations were unclear.

APOC commission member John Dapcevich of Juneau pointed out that Stevens had a history of violations.

"Repeat violations should reach the maximum penalty, otherwise why have a maximum penalty?" he said.

The commission also found Stevens in violation for failing to disclose more than $70,000 in income from Semco Energy, owner of Enstar, the state's largest utility. That fine amounted to $630.

Metcalfe, now head of the state Republican Moderate Party, brought both complaints against Stevens. He blasted the commission for its laggardly response to his complaints and called for its abolition.

He said Stevens was emblematic of "very serious corruption that has dominated our Legislature for a long time."

Stevens did not run for re-election and was among the legislators whose offices were searched by FBI agents last summer as part of a corruption investigation.

Metcalfe said it was time for APOC to address its failures in forcing Stevens to comply with disclosures laws.

"I think it is time to stop beating the dead horse of Ben Stevens. He's done," he said.

Metcalfe proposed that the commission be eliminated and replaced with a more effective body. The new regulatory agency should be located in the judiciary branch of government to isolate it from legislative meddling and staffed with state troopers to handle its criminal investigations, he said.

APOC didn't get serious about Stevens, Metcalfe said, until he was leaving office and could no longer threaten its budget.

Metcalfe also asked APOC chairman Larry Wood, general counsel for Alyeska Pipeline Service Co., to recuse himself from the Stevens case. Wood objected, but agreed to step down when other commissioners agreed there was at least an appearance of conflict of interest.

Alyeska is owned by a group of oil companies which also fund Veco Corp., one of the companies the FBI has been investigating.

• Pat Forgey can be reached at patrick.forgey@juneauempire.com.

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